Breakside Wanderlust IPA

wanderlust-ipa-breakside-23608-1zBrewer: Breakside Brewery, Portland, OR
Style: India Pale Ale
Alc/Vol: 6.7%

Description: This India Pale Ale is part of the brewery’s regular lineup and is a signature example of a hop-forward fresh-hopped Pacific Northwest IPA. Compared to other IPAs, its malts are slightly subdued and its color lighter than usual. In terms of bitterness, it has a potent, but altogether drier and subtler hop profile.

Tasting Notes: This beer was definitely one of the lighter-tasting IPAs I’ve ever had. Its lower gravity – which resulted in malts that were not particularly coarse or sugary – combined with fresh hops, produced a less intense, but still potent, citrus flavor. All in all, I found it a highly pleasant beer and a interesting change of pace from IPAs that tend to be both sweet and profoundly bitter.

Appearance: Light golden/amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Strong bouquet of grapefruit, floral and citrusy
Taste: Subtle malts, strong hops, hints of grapefruit, passion fruit, pine resin
Aftertaste: Lingering bitterness, relatively clean malt finish
Overall: 9/10

Salt Spring Island Heather Ale

saltspring_heatherAs the beer class I am hoping to teach nears, I have found myself feeling a little hard pressed to secure all the styles of beer I would need to make an effective presentation. After all, how can one accurately represent the history of beer when it’s so long, diverse and varied? Sure, there’s no shortage of British-style ales, German lagers, and Belgian ales here on the west coast. But what of beers that predate the Belgian Purity Law?

Lucky for me that Salt Spring Island specializing in creating beers of this kind. For awhile, I was hoarding bottles of Salt Spring Island’s Spring Fever Gruit, but as expected, they ran out. And while their Saturnalia Gruit is an equally fitting example of an ancient brew, it too suffers from seasonal availability. Lucky for me, their Heather Ale is year-round and I was able to grab a few, knowing that I could drink them and not fear that the supply would run dry.

And I thought that while I was doing that, I might finally give it a review. It goes without saying that Heather Ale is a renowned style of beer, one that is very popular in Scotland and abroad. It dates back to 4000 BC when it was introduced to Scotland by the Picts, and is therefore one of the most dated styles in existence. And Salt Spring Brewery, in tune with their commitment to organic brewing that’s faithful to its roots, produce a very nice and easy-drinking beer that has a subtle array of herbal notes and flavors that is very appealing, especially to people who are looking for a break from the hoppy beers the Pacific Northwest is famous for.

Appearance: Amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Mild malt, hints of flowers and honey
Taste: Smooth malt, mild tang, hint of vanilla, notes of honey
Aftertaste: Clean finish, lingering tang and minerality
Overall: 8.5/10

Though I am a big fan of the hops, I have to give high credit to this beer for its clean taste, mineral-like tang, vanilla and honey like flavor and gentle aroma. I naturally couldn’t help but compare it to Fraoch, the famous heather ale by the Williams Brothers Brewery. And honestly, I feel this one gives it a good run for its money. I hope those who attend my beer class can appreciate it too!

Base Camp Brewery Has Arrived!

It seems there’s no end to the amount of beer coming up from the south lately. In addition to American, Diamond Knot, and Skagit, a great deal of hubbub is also being made by the operation known as Base Camp Brewing, which like many stellar brewing operations comes to us from Portland, Oregon. I was immediately drawn to their spot in the aisle when I noticed that they store their beer in aluminum tallboys, much like Surgenor brewing – may she rest in peace – used to do.

As it stands, only two beers in their lineup are available locally. And after having tried both, I was quite impressed. This included their IPA and Pilsner, which combined some serious authenticity with just enough experimentation to make them surprising.

In-Tents Lager:
in-tents_IPLThe flagship beer of the brewery, this beer is one of the few that makes it to export. And unlike many India Pale Lagers I’ve tasted in recent years, this beer manages to marry the best of both worlds – rich malts and a strong hop bite with the clean-tasting, refreshing qualities of a lager – without compromising on either. According to the commercial description, this beer is dry-hopped with a combination of Pacific Northwest hops and aged in caskets of toasted white and red oak. The end product is then lagered, which creates a beer that is at once malty, dry, fruity and sugary, but also refreshing and crisp. The play on words that is this beer’s name is clearly well-deserved.

Orange-amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation

Nose: Strong malts, sweet, citrusy hops, ruby red grapefruit
Taste: Sweet and sugary malts, strong citrus, pine, passion fruit hops
Aftertaste: Lingering bitterness, mild fruity notes
Overall: 9/10

Ripstop Rye PIls:
ripstop-rye-pilsAnother beer that is available for export, the Ripstop Rye Pils is the breweries reinterpretation of the classic pilsner lager beer. Basically, this beer is a marriage of traditional Pilsner with west coast hops and toasted rye malt. This results in a beer that smells of European malt and noble-type hops are discernible, as are some interesting traces of orchard fruits. In terms of flavor, the characteristic Pilsner taste mingles with some spicy rye notes, added fruit, and some grassy hops. And of course, it all finishes off crisp, clean, with a little lingering spice for emphasis. Quite the pleasing and refreshing hot weather beer and well paired with spicy foods. I think this one just might be a contender for my “Beer that tames the fire” list.

Appearance: Light golden blonde, slightly cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Sharp hops, mild fruit, notes of peach and plum
Taste: Immediate tang, slightly bitter, grassy hops, rye spice, touch of peach
Aftertaste: Lingering crisp hop flavor, discernible rye aftertaste
Overall: 9/10

From just a passing glance at their website, I can see there are many left to try. Apparently, their expanded lineup includes 19 beers, ranging from a Pale Ale to a Sessional, from a Saison to a Doppelbock. I can only assume that many of these are only available on tap and not for sale outside of the local brewpubs. Guess I’ll just have to arrange a road trip!

American Brewing Has Arrived!

american_brewingAnother great American brewing operation has arrived in my home town. I’m beginning to wonder if this is becoming something of a theme! In any case, I’ve been quite in favor of it, since its making available more and more craft brewing operations that those of us north of the 49th parallel have not previously had access to. And with that, I shall now cover my latest sampling from a American brewing operation, which appropriately comes from the operation known as American Brewing.

Located in Edmonds, Washington, this craft brewery has only been in operation for two years. However, the brewers have been active in the industry since 1992, and from my initial encounter I can tell that they are certainly not lacking in either qualifications or talent. And from what I managed to procure, I think I got a pretty good feel for what they are capable of. In fact, the two beers I tried just happened to be the breweries signature creations – the Breakaway IPA and the American Blonde. This encompasses half of their initial lineup, minus the three seasonals they have produced thus far.

American Breakaway IPA:
Apparently, this beer was the first to be produced by the brewery, and is something that Skip Madsen, the brewmaster, is rather proud of. And since it is a fine example of a true Northwestern India Pale Ale, I could certainly see why. The beer pours a deep amber color, is cloudy (indicative of high gravity), and boasts a pretty good head. On the nose, you get a good combination of citrus and floral aromas. And in terms of flavor, the malts are quite strong, sweet, and have a bit of a coarse finish. And of course, the hops, which contain a burst of citrus, grapefruit and passion fruit, and have a long, bitter finish. Add to that a respectable alcohol content (7.2% alc/vol), and this beer pretty much has all that you would expect from an IPA.

Appearance: Dark amber, cloudy, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Malty nose, sugars, good dose of citrusy, floral hops
Taste: Burst of grapefruit and passion fruit, sweet malts giving way to slight coarseness
Aftertaste: Lingering coarse malt flavor, lingering hop bitterness
Overall: 9/10

American Blonde Ale:
I was actually warned about this beer in advance. Given its yeasty nature and unfiltered goodness, it can foam up on you. However, I suspect this particular source was not used to drinking bottle fermented or Belgian-style beers. And another source highly recommended it, claiming it was better than the IPA. So naturally, I had to try it. And in the end, they were both right. This beer pours a light, golden blonde, has serious foam and carbonation, and possesses a very nice, very subtle and varied palate. Abundant yeasts are balanced out with mild fruits, and the finish is very clean. In a lot of ways, I was reminded of Belgian-style Wits and Ales, not the least of which was Orval Trappist and Blanche De Chambly.

Appearance: Golden blonde, cloudy, heavy foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Dried orchard fruit, cherry, peach, plenty of yeast and mild oak
Taste: Mild malts, gentle hints of sour cherry, oak, yeast and peaches
Aftertaste: Very clean, lingering traces of yeast 
Overall: 9.5/10

Not a bad intro, but its only served to pique my interest further! In addition to their Oatmeal Stout and Pale Ale, they also have a pretty significant seasonal lineup. This includes a Scotch Ale, Brown Ale, and a Winter Ale, style that I must admit, I highly approve of! See you soon, American Brewing!

Ninkasi Babylon Double IPA

ninkasi_babylonHello again and good day! It’s the weekend again and I am back with some more new and exciting examples of craft brewing from my local beer store. And today, it’s another visitor from south of the border, Eugene, Oregon to be specific. And I’m rather lucky in that my local store has chosen to stock tall boys of Ninkasi’s Babylon Double IPA, a special release beer which is typically available only in their mixer pack. Nothing wrong with those, but if I’m going to sample, I want to sample big!

And as the name would suggest, this double IPA is quite the heavy hitter. In addition to some high-gravity malts, it also weighs in at a hefty 9.1% alc/vol. And as could be expected, it also boasts a high concentration of hops, 100 IBUs worth to be exact. As a result, the alcohol, malts, and hops achieve a certain high-concentration balance. Rather than any one aspect of it being overpowering, it’s all overpowering at once!

Appearance: Deep orange, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Rich, sweet malt, hints of grassy and tropical hops
Taste: High-gravity malty sweetness, notes of passion fruit and grassy hops
Aftertaste: Lingering coarse malt flavor, hop bitterness
Overall: 8/10

Yes, this beer is not for the faint of heart, uninitiated, or weak of taste of buds! Like anything with the words double and IPA in it, it should only ever be enjoyed by those who have a deep and enduring passion for strong ale and a hefty dose of bitterness!

Visit to Pike Brewery!

Pike-SignHello all! I’ve just gotten back from an exciting trip to Seattle with the family. An annual, or semi-annual thing, the purpose of this trip  was to see my sister and brother-in-law and exchange our belated Christmas and birthday gifts. Due to the border between us, visits are not a regular occurrence, so every such trip is considered a very special occasion.

And in addition to spending time with the people I love, exchanging some choice swag and visiting a lot of interesting places, I finally got a chance to do some on-site sampling at the PIke Brewery this year. Last time I was in Seattle, I got to the front door, but was forced to double back with the rest of my troupe and wasn’t able to dine in. But this year, thanks in part to my darling wife, we managed to secure ourselves a table for some light lunch and some brews.

And let me tell you, it was an experience I would very much like to repeat. Not only is the decor very industrial-chic, punctuated by sculpted metal ceilings, columns, and art deco, it’s also got an unmistakably historic feel to it. Having been established in the early 80’s, only the third brewpub of its kind to open in North America before everybody and their brother was doing it, this place has been around for some time, but still manages to keep things honest.

pike_2Not only was our beer top shelf, we got some awesome food and some choice service. In fact, our server – Melanie, who’s kind of my hero right now – managed to score us some free pints because of a tiny error in our order. How cool was that? And just to return a small shred of that courtesy, I let her and the others know that they would be featured in this review. Hello Pike People! Anyhoo, onto our selection…

As those who follow this site may know, I have reviewed the bulk of Pike’s beers in another post, so I shan’t go over the same ground here. And while I did take the chance to resample some older favorites, I was sure to tackle a few I knew I hadn’t had the chance to review yet. They were…

Space Needle Golden Anniversary Vintage IPA:
Pike-Space-Needle-Golden-IPA-225x225Commemorating 50 years of the Space Needle being built, and roughly 30 years of independent brewing, this golden IPA is a multifaceted and pleasing take on the traditional India Pale Ale. Combining a variety of Yakima Valley hops – Cascade, Columbus, Centennial, Summit – the overall effect is an ale that is both citrusy, slightly sweet, floral and even tropical in nature. Since it is of such limited availability, I’m glad I got some while I could. No telling if it would be available north of the 49th parallel!

Appearance: Golden orange, cloudy, mild foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Varied hops, tropical and floral, heavy on the passion fruit
Taste: Immediate burst of hops, starting with citrus and moving to tropical, then bitter
Aftertaste: Lingering bitterness and citrus rind flavor
Overall: 9/10

Tandem Double Ale:
pike_tandem_labelNamed in honor of the Finkel’s tandem bicycle, this beer is a Belgian-style dubbel that is available year round. And like many dubbels, it is spiced with coriander and is double-fermented to get a deep, heavy flavor that is reminiscent of pudding and sweet breads. Though I’ve had this one before, I somehow failed to dedicate a review to it. Not sure why, seems so un-snob like of me! In any case, I made a special point to get some takeaway so I could give this standout its due!

Appearance: Deep brown, very cloudy and almost opaque, mild foam and carbonation
Nose: Ruddy malts, sugary and molasses-like, slight notes of spice
Taste: Immediate dose of mild spice, heavy malts, syrupy and pudding like, mild tang
Aftertaste: Slight notes of coriander and coarse malt
Overall: 8/10

Cask Conditioned IPA:
pike_ipa_labelThis beer was brought to me free of charge thanks to our heroic barwoman (Thanks again, Mel!), and was my choice for last call since Casks are the truest ales around, and hence the ultimate test of a brewer’s mettle. And I was very pleased that this beer was as consistently good with their standard IPA, but still managed to present a few surprises of its own. Served at cellar temperatures, low in foam and carbonation, unfiltered and unpasteurized, true ales are not for the uninitiated, but are a real pleasure once you get a taste for them.

Appearance: Deep amber, very cloudy, low foam and carbonation
Nose: Floral hops, slight citrus notes, mild malts
Taste:  Lighter malts, tawny and clean on the tongue, followed by notes of grapefruit
Aftertaste: Mild bitterness, relatively clean aftertaste
Overall: 9/10

wingsAnd of course, our food! As is customary for us whenever sampling lighter fare, my wife and I decided to get the chicken wings and the spinach salad. Naturally, Pike Brewery has their own twists on both, and they skyrocketed to the top of my list of the best wings I’ve had since moving to the West Coast! Baked, not fried, plump and juicy, with a spicy sauce that achieved a slow-to-build but powerful burn, and with a divine blue cheese dressing, these wings achieved a trifecta of wing perfection! I know nothing comparable to them except for what Craig Street Brewing used to do.

spinach_saladAnd the spinach salad was equally good, made up of mushrooms, pine nuts,sun dried tomatoes, garlic, Parmesan, dried bits of prosciutto, and a light vinaigrette. The merger of these elements achieved a sort of healthy, crunchy, salty goodness, equal parts health food and guilty pleasure! And as always, a good spinach salad is the perfect accompaniment to hot wings and beer!

All around, it was a great time and I’m glad my wife and I had the wherewithal to force the issue. There was no way we were going to miss out on this place a second time! And I look forward to going back someday. Hopefully it won’t take two more years this time!

Hoyne’s Gratitude Winter Warmer

slider-gratitudeEarlier this evening, I made one of my regular trips to the Hoyne Brewery, but not just as part of one of my regular visits to refill my growlers. No, this time around, I also came heavily laden with bags full of clothes, since the brewery is taken donations of used clothing, canned goods and non-perishable items for the holiday season. So if you’re in the Rock Bay region and have some canned goods or clothes you don’t know what to do with, consider donating, because you know someone else could use more than yourself 😉

But of course, there was also a festive spirit in the air that had to do with something other than their generosity of spirit.There was also the availability of their special winter warmer, Gratitude, which has been making the rounds in the Victoria area of late. An extra-special limited release, this beer was not even available on tap, but only by the bottle – the paper-wrapped, specially labeled bottle that is. Yes, each bottle of this winter ale comes with a label that expresses the brewery’s thanks to all those who’ve supported them this past year and all the things that we all are thankful for during the holiday season.

And as winter warmers go, this beer is faithful to tradition and a pleasure to consume. Combining subtle spice notes with a strong, dark, malty base, the beer warms the gullet, ignites the palate, but is also smooth and appealing despite its strength (9% alc/vol). And surprisingly, the beer is quite clean despite its dark and rich character, something which is relatively rare in winter ales and barley wines.

Appearance: Dark amber/brown, transparent and good foam retention
Nose: Notes of clove, nutmeg, and figgy pudding
Taste: Opens with sweet malts and spices, cloves, all spice, plums and figs
Aftertaste: Slight tang, relatively clean finish, slight lingering notes of spice
Overall: 9/10

Congrats again Hoyne for creating something subtle, experimental, but altogether appealing and satisfying. Congrats also on your first great year, conveying quality craft beers to Victorians and people of the Pacific Northwest. Keep doing what you’re doing and don’t go changing to try and please people. I meant it, don’t change!

Freya’s Gold

Good news everybody! The good works of Odin’s Brewery, located in Seattle, Washington, is now available in Canada! Well, at least in my neck of the woods, it is. Less than a year ago, I was sampling their Juniper Ale for the first time and loving it. So imagine my surprise when I found not only it, but their Kolsch-style ale sitting on the shelf at my local liquor store. And according to their website, that’s two thirds of their main lineup covered!

As for the Freya’s Gold, I have plenty to say and just about all of it positive. Unlike most Kolsh’s I’ve tried, this beer delivers a more complex, coarse palate before finishing clean. One immediately gets notes of pine in the flavor coupled with a mild bitterness, which is apparently due to the inclusion of ginger in the recipe. All in all, this beer was more reminiscent of a blonde ale than your average Kolsch. However, this does not detract from the experience, but merely provides for a more interesting time.

Appearance: Straw colored gold, clear and transparent
Nose: Light, slightly coarse with notes of citrus rind
Taste: Immediately bitter, piney with a touch of ginger
Aftertaste: Bitterness giving way to a mild, clean finish
Overall: 8/10

As my second sampling of the Odin brewery’s lineup, this beer did quite well. Now that it’s available at my local watering hole, I plan to update my knowledge on Odin’s Gift, and would like it very much is they can secure a few bottles of the Viking’s Gold too.

Lagunitas Brewing (Updated!)

Back with some new installments, this time from further down south! During one of my many recent trips to the watering hole, the friendly staff recommended I check out the Lagunita’s brewery, an operation that comes to us from Petaluma California. Naturally, I was interesting seeing as how the farthest south I’ve ever drunk was San Francisco, and that came in the form of Anchor Steam. So on her recommendations, I picked up a few bottles and gave them a round.

Apparently, this brewing company is known for taking their share of hard knocks. After years of honing their craft, being evicted, landing in Petaluma, and slowly building a market, they’ve gone on to achieve international renown. Another thing, they are known for producing beers that are classified as both odd and exceptional. It’s little wonder then why their products show up here in BC!

Anyway, here is what I tried and what I thought of it…

Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale: This was the first beer I was recommended to try, based on both staff and customer reviews. And I had to say it was both interesting and pleasantly surprising. Immediately, one notices a strong hop aroma which is complimented by a quick, sharp citrusy burst. Bitterness gives way to herbal notes and then turns into a touch of sweetness that lingers on with the hoppy aftertaste. All this is apparently due to the curious combination of wheat malts with 80 IBU’s worth of hops, making it a sort of krystalweizen/IPA crossover. An interesting idea, and quite tasty, if somewhat unusual. 4/5

Bavarian-Style Doppel Weizen: My second run at the Lagunita operation, this beer appealed to me because it combined two of my favorite beer-related words into one label: Doppel, and heffeweizen. Yes, this beer is not only wheat based, but double fermented, resulting in a beer that is darker than your average wheat and stronger. This beer was apparently a collaborative effort between the brewers and the people who built their new brewing apparatus, and who supplied them with a traditional Bavarian yeast-strain, which they applied generously! Hence the added alcohol content and the Bavarian-style designation. As already noted, this beer is darker than your average wheat, being a cloudy orange rather than golden straw. The nose is rich with wheat malts and a slight nuttiness which also comes through in the taste. Strong notes of banana compliment the malts and nutty flavor, adding a touch of sweetness to it that is reminiscent of banana bread before finishing with a light hop touch. A nice experience, and one I intend to repeat if possible. Limited releases tend to be hard to come by! 4/5

Lagunitas IPA: My third and final sampling, which I unfortunately had to resample due to a bad bottle. Luckily, I found myself another tall boy and gave it a second chance. Glad I did too! Much like their other creations, this beer balances some rich malts with a complex, mixed hop profile. Clear and deep amber in color, it has a nose that contains some spicey, herbal notes. The taste comes on smooth, giving way to hop bitterness and finishing with a slight touch of sweetness. I’m glad I went back for seconds, otherwise I might have made the mistake of thinking these guys missed with one of the most popular beers in their lineup! 4.5/5

Well, that was my Californian sampling for this month. I hope to compliment this again soon when my wife and I do our summer road trip. As it stands, we were thinking of touring the Pacific Northwest so we might experience the plethora of Cascadian craft-brewers firsthand! Looking forward to it…